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America's Favorite Spokescow

Apr 12, 2009 12:57 PM | 4 comments

I can't help it; the thought of a cow with an office and a secretary makes me laugh.

I've had a copy of this photograph displayed on my desk since I first stumbled upon it in our files, often wondering about the story behind it.  After a particularly long day of teaching, I decided to indulge in a little research of my own. 

Turns out, we've just interrupted Elsie the Cow, the world famous mascot for Borden Milk Products, hard at work.  One can only imagine what Elsie is dictating.  Perhaps a thank you note to a fan who saw her cameo in the feature film Little Men (note that the secretary keeps a copy of the novel on her desk); a new recipe featuring a Borden product; or a quick note to her famous husband, Elmer.  

We've credited this photograph to a Borden's milk distribution plant on 3rd Avenue and Dean Street.  While I know a distribution plant existed at that location, I haven't found any other evidence suggesting Elsie conducted a photo shoot there.  Either way, this photograph was probably a national publicity stunt.  As a national spokescow, Elsie frequently appeared in print ads, radio and television spots, and, of course, on Borden products. 

The original Elsie spokescow was the cartoon drawing we still recognize today.  The "live" Elsie came into being at the 1939 World's Fair in Queens. Borden's exhibit on the Dairy of the Future was failing to earn the popularity it hoped for.  So they announced that Elsie herself would also be present.  Although Borden staff were trained to answer in-depth questions about new technology in the dairy industry, the vast majority of the questions had to do with Elsie. 

Thanks to this appearance, the live Elsie became a permanent fixture for Borden.  Our collection has a second picture showing her celebrating her 10th birthday at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan.  Obviously, many cows have played Elsie, but Borden does not differentiate between them.  To the public, Elsie is the same friendly face that first appeared at the World's Fair.

Incidentally, my research (yes, I did get a little carried away) also led me to discover that Elsie's dairy products had a strong presence here in Brooklyn.  Our collection holds several photographs highlighting the work of Borden plants that once operated here, including the development of new delivery vehicles, the use of women workers during wartime, and a driver's strike that left baby booming families without their daily milk needs.

Although Borden no longer operates locally in Brooklyn, Elsie has maintained her national stardom.  She continues to travel the country in her "cowdillac," and I'm hopeful she'll grace us with an appearance again soon.

We don't serve bread with one fish ball

Apr 9, 2009 8:20 AM | 1 comment

Today's post comes directly from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle Online, May 29, 1887, p. 6:   

Luckily for today's Brooklynite, the restaurant scene has finally emerged from New York's shadow after centuries. fish balls I've even heard that Manhattanites travel to Brooklyn to dine out. Web sites like Chowhound, Edible Brooklyn, and BPL's own No Shush Zone spread news and reviews on current cuisine in the borough. Anyone know where to get good fish balls?   

For those who don't enjoy reading 19th century newsprint, the article text follows: "Brooklyn can stand three or four more good restaurants," said a pretty high living friend of mine. "There is no reason why we should not have good cooking and good service in the restaurants over here at moderate prices. There are plenty of such places in New York, but here you must either pay extravagant prices or patronize the cheap establishments where the cooking is bad and the service no better. Outside of the chop houses and one or two high priced hotels there is hardly a restaurant in this city where you can get a properly cooked and served meal. The old fashioned slap dash 'we don't serve bread with one fish ball' establishment which abound along some of our principal thoroughfares are no better than so many dyspepsia foundries. A few well conducted restaurants over here where one could be sure of obtaining a meal well cooked and served at a moderate price would pay handsomely. Of course, the chop houses of Brooklyn can not be excelled by those over the river, but suppose you take a lady to the theater. After the play you cannot have supper at a chop house. You must either pay Delmonico prices at a hotel restaurant or go home hungry, unless you wish to be limited to a bill of fare of steaks, chops and oysters. I think hundreds of young and middle aged men in Brooklyn who may not be over burdened with cash will appreciate the point I wish to make."

Ancient Questions Posed

Apr 8, 2009 10:18 AM | 0 comments

 SWEL 0570

Among the Brooklyn Daily Eagle photographs that are now a part of the Library's Brooklyn Collection, are hundreds of images of Brooklyn's orphanages. Changes in social welfare policies have closed the doors of these places, but we here are fully aware of their past existence--in fact, a couple of times a year you can bet on an alumnus of one orphanage or another calling to ask for information about or pictures of their old home.  Some of the sweetest images come from the Pride of Judea Home, established as a Jewish orphanage on Dumont Avenue and Elton Street in 1915. Home to about 3000 children over the years, in 1959 it became a child guidance center, and after being annexed by the Board of Education in the mid-1960s, it became a school. Its current incarnation is as a Mental Health Center in Flushing, Queens.

In the case of Pride of Judea, we have not only photographs but also a memoir, An Orphan Has Many Parents, to help people revisit their memories. Of Rabbi Jacob Cohen, pictured above, the authors write:  "Jacob Cohen...made no bones about carrying on [the] high priority of getting the very best people to care for their charges with love and firmness...That this policy eloquent testimony to the uniqueness of the Pride of Judea Home, and that is why it was able to play such a positive role in all of our lives."

A happy Passover to all.

Our Bi-Weekly Mystery Picture

Apr 7, 2009 3:35 PM | 2 comments

The word "unidentified" occurs all too often in our photograph database. I have decided it is time to tidy up a few of these "unidentifieds," and you, dear readers--I know you are out there--are going to help.

Here are two pictures of a market in an unidentified Brooklyn location.

The first to give a convincing account of the location may have a print of either of these if he or she so wishes, otherwise they may simply consider themselves covered in glory.  Now here are a couple of clues:  signs visible in the top picture read Printing 135, Bottaro pastry, La Meridionale Foreign Exchanges and Pastore Funeral -- . In the lower picture we have Latticini freschi and Barbera Bakery 142.  From this we deduce that this is an Italian neighborhood and this is the same market seen from opposite sides of the street. The date is 1952.

Now don't all come running in at once to check out our Telephone Directories on microfilm, available in the Popular Library.


Waiting for Spring

Apr 2, 2009 2:46 PM | 1 comment

In these early days of April, watching eagerly for signs of leaves returning to the trees, I am reminded of this old poem:

Spring is sprung,
the grass is ris,
I wonder where them boidies is?
The boid is on the wing--
Of course the wing is on the boid. -Anonymous

Often attributed to Ogden Nash or other individuals, versions of this poem have appeared in newspapers (and now web pages) since the mid-twentieth century. Written in "Brooklynese," the poem is featured in a New York Times article on January 18, 1976 about our notable dialect in Brooklyn/Bronx/New York/New Jersey. But although there is clearly still a Brooklyn accent, would anyone agree that Brooklynese still exists? Or has it gone the way of the Dodo bird?    

POST 0131

This postcard of the entrance to flower gardens in Prospect Park illustrates the beauty of springtime in Brooklyn. And going further back in time, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle effuses about how "the trees in the parks and suburbs and on the country roads are putting forth their tender leaves, many of them fill the air with their fragrance, the lawns and hill sides are robed in beautiful green occasionally flecked with flowers of other colors, and the melodies of the birds complement these scenes of verbal beauty with the only utterances that seem appropriate to the time." (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 13, 1872). Here's to spring!